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Eddie Cantor (January 31 1892 – October 10 1964) was an Americanmarker comedian, dancer, singer, actor, and songwriter. Familiar to Broadwaymarker, radio and early television audiences, this "Apostle of Pep" was regarded almost as a family member by millions because his top-rated radio shows revealed intimate stories and amusing anecdotes about his wife Ida and five daughters. His eye-rolling song-and-dance routines eventually led to his nickname, Banjo Eyes, and in 1933, the artist Frederick J. Garner caricatured Cantor with large round and white eyes resembling the drum-like pot of a banjo. Cantor's eyes became his trademark, often exaggerated in illustrations, and leading to his appearance on Broadway in the musical Banjo Eyes (1941).

Early life

Cantor was born Edward Israel Iskowitz in New York Citymarker, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Meta and Mechel Iskowitz. His mother died of tuberculosis two years after his birth, and he was abandoned by his father, left to be raised by his grandmother, Esther Kantrowitz. A misunderstanding when signing her grandson for school gave him her last name of Kantrowitz (shortened by the clerk to Kanter). As a child, he attended Surprise Lake Camp.

By his early teens. Cantor began winning talent contests at local theaters and started appearing on stage. One of his earliest paying jobs was doubling as a waiter and performer, singing for tips at Carey Walsh's Coney Islandmarker saloon where a young Jimmy Durante accompanied him on piano. He adopted the first name Eddie when he met his future wife, Ida Tobias, in 1903, because she felt that Izzy wasn't the right name for an actor. The two married in 1914 and remained together until Ida died in 1962.

In 1907, Cantor became a billed name in vaudeville. In 1912 he was the only performer over the age of 20 to appear in Gus Edwards' Kid Kabaret, where he created his first blackface character, Jefferson. Critical praise from that show got the attention of Broadway's top producer, Florenz Ziegfeld, who gave Cantor a spot in the Ziegfeld rooftop post-show, Midnight Frolic (1916).

Broadway and recordings

A year later, Cantor made his Broadway debut in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1917. He continued in the Ziegfeld Follies until 1927, a period considered the best years of the long-running revue. For several years Cantor co-starred in an act with pioneer African-American comedian Bert Williams, both appearing in blackface; Cantor played Williams's fresh-talking son. Other co-stars with Cantor during his time in the Follies included Will Rogers, Marilyn Miller, and W.C. Fields. He moved on to stardom in book musicals, starting with Kid Boots (1923), Whoopee! (1928) and Banjo Eyes (1940).

Cantor began making phonograph records in 1917, recording both comedy songs and routines and popular songs of the day, first for Victor, then for Aeoleon-Vocalion, Pathé and Emerson. From 1921 through 1925 he had an exclusive contract with Columbia Records, returning to Victor for the remainder of the decade.

Cantor was one of the era's most successful entertainers, but the 1929 stock market crash took away his multi-millionaire status and left him deeply in debt. However, Cantor's relentless attention to his own earnings in order to avoid the poverty he knew growing up caused him to use his writing talent, quickly building a new bank account with his highly popular, bestselling books of humor and cartoons about his experience, Caught Short! A Saga of Wailing Wall Street in "1929 A.C. (After Crash)" and "Yoo Hoo Prosperity."


Cantor also bounced back in movies and on radio. He had previously appeared in a number of short films (recording him performing his Follies songs and comedy routines) and two silent features (Special Delivery and Kid Boots) in the 1920s, and was offered the lead in The Jazz Singer when that was turned down by George Jessel (Cantor also turned it down, so it went to Al Jolson), but he became a leading Hollywood star in 1930 with the film version of Whoopee! in two-strip Technicolor. Over the next two decades, he continued making films: "Palmy Days" (1931), "The Kid from Spain" (1932), "Roman Scandals" (1933), "Kid Millions" (1934), "Strike Me Pink" (1936), "Ali Baba Goes to Town" (1937), "Forty Little Mothers" (1940), "Thank Your Lucky Stars" (1943), "Hollywood Canteen" (1944), "Show Business" (1944) until 1948, with his last film, "If You Knew Susie."


Cantor appeared on radio as early as February 3, 1922, as indicated by this news item from Connecticutmarker's Bridgeport Telegram:
Local radio operators listened to one of the finest programs yet produced over the radiophone last night. The program of entertainment which included some of the stars of Broadwaymarker musical comedy and vaudeville was broadcast from the Newark, N.marker J.marker station WDY and the Pittsburghmarker station KDKA, both of the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing company. The Newark entertainment started at 7 o'clock: a children's half-hour of music and fairy stories; 7:[35?], Hawaiian airs and violin solo; 8:00, news of the day; and at 8:20 a radio party with nationally known comedians participating; 9:55, Arlington time signals and 10:01, a government weather report. G. E. Nothnagle, who conducts a radiophone station at his home 176 Waldemere Avenue said last night that he was delighted with the program, especially with the numbers sung by Eddie Cantor. The weather conditions are excellent for receiving, he continued, the tone and the quality of the messages was fine.

Cantor's appearance with Rudy Vallee on Vallee's The Fleischmann's Yeast Hour February 5, 1931 led to a four-week tryout with NBC's The Chase and Sanborn Hour. Replacing Maurice Chevalier, who was returning to Paris, Cantor joined The Chase and Sanborn Hour on September 13, 1931. This hour-long Sunday evening variety series teamed Cantor with announcer Jimmy Wallington and violinist Dave Rubinoff. The show established Cantor as a leading comedian, and his scriptwriter, David Freedman, as “the Captain of Comedy.” Cantor soon became the world's highest-paid radio star. His shows began with a crowd chanting, "We want Can-tor, We want Can-tor," a phrase said to have originated when a vaudeville audience chanted to chase off an opening act on the bill before Cantor. Cantor's theme song was his own lyric to the Leo Robin/Richard Whiting song, "One Hour with You."

Indicative of his effect on the mass audience, he agreed in November 1934 to introduce a new song by the songwriters J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie that other well-known artists had rejected as being "silly" and "childish." The song, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town", immediately had orders for 100,000 copies of sheet music the next day. It sold 400,000 copies by Christmas of that year.

His NBC radio show, Time to Smile, was broadcast from 1940 to 1946, followed by his Pabst Blue Ribbon Show from 1946 through 1949. He also served as emcee of The $64 Question during 1949-'50, and hosted a weekly disc jockey program for Philip Morris during the 1952-'53 season. In addition to film and radio, Cantor recorded for Hit of the Week Records, then again for Columbia, for Banner and Decca and various small labels.

His heavy political involvement began early in his career, including his participation in the strike to form Actors Equity in 1919, provoking the anger of father figure and producer, Florenz Ziegfeld. He was the second president of the Screen Actors Guild.

In 1939, at the World's Fair, Cantor publicly denounced hatemonger Father Charles Coughlin and was dropped by his sponsor, Camel cigarettes. A year and a half later it was his friend Jack Benny who was able to get him back on the air.


In the 1950s, he was one of the alternating hosts of the television show The Colgate Comedy Hour, in which he would introduce variety acts and play comic characters like "Maxie the Taxi." However, the show landed Cantor in an unlikely controversy when a young Sammy Davis, Jr. appeared as a guest performer. Cantor embraced Davis and mopped Davis's brow with his handkerchief after his performance. Worried sponsors led NBC to threaten cancellation of the show; Cantor's response was to book Davis for two more weeks.

On May 25, 1944, pioneer television station WPTZ (now KYW-TVmarker) in Philadelphia presented a special telecast featuring Eddie Cantor, which was also fed to the NBC television station in New York City, WNBT (now WNBC). Cantor, one of the first major stars to agree to appear on television, was to sing "We're Havin' A Baby, My Baby And Me". Arriving shortly before airtime at the Philadelphia studios, Cantor was reportedly told to cut the song because the NBC New York censors considered some of the lyrics too risqué. Cantor refused, claiming no time to prepare an alternative number. NBC relented, but the sound was cut and the picture blurred on certain lines in the song. This is considered the first instance of television censorship.

Books and merchandising

In addition to Caught Short!, Cantor wrote or co-wrote at least seven other books, including booklets released by the then-fledgling firm of Simon & Schuster, with Cantor’s name on the cover. (Some were "as told to" or written with David Freedman). Customers paid a dollar and received the booklet with a penny embedded in the hardcover. They sold well, and H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) asserted that these books did more to pull America out of the Great Depression than all government measures combined.

Cantor's popularity led to merchandising of such products as Eddie Cantor's Tell It to the Judge game from Parker Brothers. In 1933, a set of 12 Eddie Cantor caricatures by Frederick J. Garner were published by Brown & Bigelow. These advertising cards were purchased in bulk as a direct-mail item by such businesses as auto body shops, funeral directors, dental laboratories and vegetable wholesale dealers. With the full set, companies could mail a single Cantor card each month for a year to their selected special customers as an ongoing promotion.

Cantor was often caricatured in magazines and newspapers, and he was occasionally a character in Warner Bros. cartoons, including Billboard Frolics and What's Up Doc? He was the only living person ever to be depicted as a balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which first occurred in 1940.


Cantor was profiled on the popular program This Is Your Life, in which an unsuspecting person (usually a celebrity) would be surprised on live television with a half-hour tribute. Cantor was the only subject who was told of the surprise in advance; he was recovering from a heart attack and it was felt that the shock might harm him.

In 1953 Warner Bros., in an attempt to duplicate the box-office success of The Jolson Story, filmed a big-budget Technicolor feature film, The Eddie Cantor Story. The film found an audience but might have done better with someone else in the leading role. Actor Keefe Brasselle played Cantor as a caricature with high-pressure dialogue and bulging eyes wide open; the fact that Brasselle was considerably taller than Cantor didn't lend realism either. Eddie and Ida Cantor were seen in a brief prologue and epilogue set in a projection room, where they are watching Brasselle in action; at the end of the film Eddie tells Ida, "I never looked better in my life"... and gives the audience a knowing, incredulous look. George Burns, in his memoir All My Best Friends, claimed that Warner Bros. created a miracle producing the movie in that "it made Eddie Cantor's life boring".

Something closer to the real Eddie Cantor story is his self-produced 1944 feature Show Business, a valentine to vaudeville and show folks that was RKO's top-grossing film that year. Probably the best summary of Cantor's career is in one of the Colgate Comedy Hour shows. The Colgate hour was a virtual video autobiography, with Cantor recounting his career, singing his familiar hits, and re-creating his singing-waiter days with his old pal Jimmy Durante (Jimmy's wearing a lavish toupee!). This show has been issued on DVD as Eddie Cantor in Person.

As talented as Cantor was, he is an excellent example of the mega star who virtually vanishes with the passing of time. His biographer, Gregory Koseluk, wrote in 1995 that Eddie "is all but forgotten".Eddie Cantor: A Life in Show Business (introduction).


Eddie and Ida Cantor had five daughters: Marjorie, Natalie, Edna, Marilyn and Janet. Cantor’s autobiographies, My Life is in Your Hands (with David Freedman) and Take My Life (with Jane Kesner Ardmore) were republished in 2000, thanks to the dedicated efforts of one of Cantor’s grandchildren,singer, songwriter, author Brian Gari.

Following the death of daughter Marjorie at the age of 44, both Eddie's and Ida's health declined rapidly. Ida died in 1962 of "cardial insufficiency". On October 10, 1964 in Beverly Hills, Californiamarker, Eddie Cantor suffered another heart attack and died. He is buried in Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery. Cantor was awarded an honorary Academy Award the year of his death.



  • Ziegfeld Follies of 1917 (1917) - revue - performer
  • Ziegfeld Follies of 1918 (1918) - revue - performer, co-composer and co-lyricist for "Broadway's Not a Bad Place After All" with Harry Ruby
  • Ziegfeld Follies of 1919 (1919) - revue - performer, lyricist for "(Oh! She's The) Last Rose of Summer"
  • Ziegfeld Follies of 1920 (1920) - revue - composer for "Green River", composer and lyricist for "Every Blossom I See Reminds Me of You" and "I Found a Baby on My Door Step"
  • The Midnight Rounders of 1920 (1920) - revue - performer
  • Broadway Brevities of 1920 (1920) - revue - performer
  • Make It Snappy (1922) - revue - performer, co-bookwriter
  • Ziegfeld Follies of 1923 (1923) - revue - sketch-writer
  • Kid Boots (1923) - musical - actor in the role of "Kid Boots" (the caddie master)
  • Ziegfeld Follies of 1927 (1927) - revue - performer, co-bookwriter
  • Whoopee! (1928) - musical - actor in the role of "Henry Williams"
  • Eddie Cantor at the Palace (1931) - solo performance
  • Banjo Eyes (1941) - musical - actor in the role of "Erwin Trowbridge"
  • Nellie Bly (1946) - musical - co-producer


Listen to


"It is nice to be important, but it is more important to be nice."



  1. Who's Who in Musicals: Ca-Cl
  3. "Radio Operators Hear a Good Concert," Bridgeport Telegram, February 4, 1922.

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